I really wasn't planning on writing about my daughter going to her prom. But sometimes the most unexpected occasions take on political meaning.
Don't get me wrong. It was priceless, one of those moments you hope your teenager will eventually appreciate you showed up for. Before the dance my daughter and about 20 best friends and their "dates" convened at someone's house. The guys looked impossibly awkward in their dark, shiny suits. The girls looked like they'd just finished a shoot for America's Next Top Model. Proving, once again, how much sooner girls mature than boys.
As for me I pretended I was Annie Leibowitz and annoyed my daughter no end by insisting on taking photos. The horror! (In one shot she's reaching out toward the camera, glaring at me like I'm one of the paparazzi. I probably won't upload that one on Flickr.)
So what does a high-school prom in Los Angeles have to do with Christiane Amanpour reporting on Afghanistan? Just how different a young woman's life can be by virtue of geography.
Cut to a few nights later. I'm sitting in a packed ballroom at the Beverly Hills Hotel at the Global Women's Rights Awards held by the Feminist Majority Foundation. Mavis Leno, who has been advocating for Afghan women and girls with the group long before Kabul became cool, is being honored. Jay is here too, making political jokes, including one about Obama's much-covered 100th day. ("George Bush didn't spend 100 days in office!")
Also getting an award is The One Million Signatures Campaign, a group of brave Iranian women who are fighting to end laws in Iran that discriminate against women. They don't have an office or a staff; it's all done by volunteers in different countries. They aren't ideological, either. Unless you consider fighting for women's rights to be particularly radical. Which I guess many people do.
Because of their campaign, nearly 50 women have been held by Iranian authorities on such nebulous charges as "activity against national security." Other activists haven't been allowed to travel or had meetings in their homes broken up by police.
Then we have Afghanistan, where life for women and girls has gone from horrific to even more horrific under the Taliban. Forget about the prom. For the simple act of going to school, girls have had acid thrown in their faces. Female teachers have been murdered and hundreds of girls' schools burned.
In terms of women's rights Hamid Karzai hasn't exactly been Hillary Clinton. In March Afghanistan's increasingly unpopular president approved a law that would have made it a crime for Shia women to refuse having sex with their husbands. (Essentially we're talking marital rape here.) They also couldn't work or go to school without their spouse's permission. Or leave the house without a male escort.
Naturally, a lot of Afghan women weren't thrilled. When scores of them protested at a rally in Kabul, they were pelted by an angry mob with stones. Nice!
But fortunately bad news travels fast. Thanks to an international outcry by women's groups, human rights activists and Sen. Barbara Boxer, among other scary opponents, Karzai was forced to back-pedal. A few days ago he promised to amend the law so that it respects the rights of girls and women.
Which brings me to Christiane Amanpour, the fearless CNN correspondent. At the event, she was being honored for her coverage of Afghanistan, and had recently returned from filming a documentary there. Before dinner I had a chance to speak with her. And she was surprisingly optimistic about our involvement in Afghanistan and its potential to improve women's lives.
(A disclaimer here: This was before the American airstrikes that reportedly killed dozens of civilians in Farah. Not to mention Obama's meetings with Karzai about cracking down on the Taliban.)
"I strongly believe it's not a hopeless case," Amanpour said of Obama's new push in Afghanistan. But U.S. military officials also told her that troops won't solve the situation alone. Amanpour said we also need to honor the promises George Bush made -- and then broke when he got obsessed with Iraq -- to rebuild the country.
"The correct involvement by this administration could be critical. It's about developing. This is the critical element toward making a success out of what's going on there."
This will take time and patience, Amanpour said. But then the Afghans really aren't asking for much. "All we want is to feed our families and to send our children to school," they kept telling her.
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